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I've been mulling over what to post on this topic for a while. In case you missed it:

Marion Zimmer Bradley: It's Worse Than I Knew

In which Bradley's daughter came forward about her mother's abuse.

Rape, Abuse, and Marion Zimmer Bradley

In which Jim Hines rounds up links and points out that we cannot silence the voices of the abused no matter how famous or popular the abuser is.

SFF community reeling after Marion Zimmer Bradley's daughter accuses her of abuse

In which mainstream media takes note.


I want to preface this by saying I was/am a fan of MZB; I've spent years and years reading and collecting her work and the works about her work; I've written academic essays and gone to cons to talk about her; at one point I wanted nothing more than to write her biography and met with numerous people who knew her towards that end. In short, this is all from the perspective of someone who was invested in her as a person and figure of import.

I am not shattered by these revelations. I'm not going to throw out her books. I'm not going to read them with the same amount of enjoyment, either. I do want to think about what happened then and what is happening now means.

I know from conversations with people that MZB grew up in an abusive situation; how abusive and whether that too was sexual, I do not know. One BNF I spoke with at DarkoverCon a few years ago told me how she herself was a victim of sexual abuse, and how MZB helped her heal and also come out of the closet.

MZB did good in this world, even as she did evil. It's difficult to reconcile these things, but this too is true.

I also know that Bradley's generation is dying off; one of her friends and protegees, who mentored me in turn, passed away this Fall. I do not think it is an accident that Greyland chose to come forth in a time of relative safety, when MZB's greatest defenders are gone or quiet, when her popularity is on the wane. In some ways, I think this is a smart decision, because it means people are LISTENING: decades ago, they wouldn't have done, not only because of MZB but because of society's own attitudes towards abuse (and let's face it: we STILL have a long way to go before we can end the whole "blame the victim" mentality).

At Darkovercon, people were matter of fact about Breen and his evil; it was an open secret, if you will. People took care to monitor their children even as there was very much a mentality of "protect Marion." This comes up in The Great Breen Boondoggle, in which the author opines that someone should "warn" Marion about the man she was marrying. You can read the depositions of Marion as knowing accomplice; from conversations I've had, you can also read them as a clueless woman trying to protect those she loved and failing miserably.

MZB was truly a cult figure with all that entails: charisma enough to garner followers and protectors; keep in mind, the same people who wanted to protect her reputation regarding Walter are the same ones who wanted to protect her writing reputation, up to and including how she would pay (or not) fans/followers and pass off their work as her own; not quite plagiarism, not quite ghostwriting. The last books to bear her name have very little of her own writing in it; for instance, the Exile's Song trilogy was written by Adrienne Martine-Barnes, who wrote from MZB's notes; MZB hated that Barnes killed off Regis and summarily packed her off. The Trillium books MZB co-authored had Elisabeth Waters writing for Marion, etc.

MZB's history has also been rewritten after her death. Waters, who is in charge of Bradley's estate, has worked tirelessly to make a clean narrative. For instance, Bradley was an open pagan who wrote articles for The Green Egg amongst other spiritual zines, including pieces on how to set up a Wiccan altar in one's own home, etc. Her Literary Works Trust site maintains that she was a lifelong Christian. There's also very little [nothing] there about Bradley's life as an open lesbian (who happened to marry men, twice, and have children with them both) (we could probably talk here about bi-erasure, but "lesbian" was also the term MZB preferred, so.).

In her own life, MZB took pains to rewrite her history, changing narratives as necessary to make her work more heroic. There's an interesting essay she wrote about being a lone woman in SF in the 50s, and never mind that she sold her early stories to a woman editor. (Woman's inhumanity to woman, etc.)

We can also talk about the cultures of silence in the 50s-90s, especially about abuse. In several of her stories--I'm thinking of "Knives" here, MZB wrote sympathetically of characters who were abused, raped, etc. and who overcame those traumas. Now we know that MZB was both abuser and abused. Another blogger wrote about the underaged/coerced sex of The Mists of Avalon and how it's difficult to reread in light of what we know. I'm thinking of her character Dyan Ardais from the Darkover books; a villain who is and is not sympathetic (not unlike Marion herself); who on the one hand abuses boys and on the other is a "good" man protecting his planet. That character had a significant following; somewhere I have a fanzine devoted to stories only about him. I can't help but feel now that Dyan Ardais was a version of Marion, and the mystique of that character was her mystique too.

This got long and went nowhere fast. To conclude: We cannot separate the art from the artist. We cannot separate the artist from the person. People aren't pies--you can't slice them up and just take the bits you want. It's all mixed up together. Was Marion a great writer and important to SF? Yes. Did she at the least aid and abet in crimes, and probably commit them herself? Yes. Did she help and comfort the abused? Yes, that too. Do her works remain important to genre history? Yes. Can we separate anything out to make a clean narrative of any kind?

No. No, we cannot.


( 9 comments — Add your .02 )
Jun. 29th, 2014 03:40 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this! I had missed all of this, so reading and retweeting some of your links :)

(I never read MZB but I had other cases of being strongly disappointed with writers/actors/other wellknown folks, and it does taint my pleasure in their art, although their art always DOES have to do with them.)
Jun. 30th, 2014 04:33 am (UTC)
Yeah; I've had had the experience in the past of just being unable to move on from what I know of the person into enjoying their book. (I've also had the reverse case happen, where I enjoyed knowing a person, read his book, and was utterly skeeved ever after.)

An article on the topic was posted in The Washington Post today; the story is gaining greater traction in the mainstream world. I really wonder what will become of Bradley and her legacy now. It was on the wane before--perhaps this will bury it? This past November Darkovercon changed its name to Chessiecon, so I suppose that says a lot too.
Jun. 30th, 2014 04:05 am (UTC)
I haven't really followed MZB since the 1990s. I went through all of her books I could find in a rush when from about 6th to 9th grade, but I started liking her work less as time wore on(didn't even know about any of the scandals going on). I don't know where I'm going with this, sorry. She was a big influence on my interest in SF/Fantasy, and that had big influence on my early life, in finding a community of people who are still my friends after 20 years. I am still processing what you've been posting, it's some hard thinking.
Jun. 30th, 2014 04:35 am (UTC)
Yeah, it's a real blow to fandom and genre together. She was a major figure for so long, though as I said, she has been on the wane since her death. The longrunning con Darkovercon changed its name to Chessiecon this past November; not uncoincidentally because the BNF that had run it since its inception died last year as well. I guess this is all part of the passing of a generation..
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 30th, 2014 03:57 pm (UTC)
Wow, really? That's something no one's brought up at all. Though, timewise and out of curiosity, do you happen to know if this was before or after she had her stroke? (Which was, I think, in the early to mid 90s? I think I have the date written down in my notes somewhere but they are still in storage.) Apparently the stroke left her unable to write which was why she started essentially ghostwriting with some of her mentees; I wonder if the personal attacks were a form of outlet of jealousy. /armchair psychoanalysis

The Mists of Avalon was very formative for me as well, especially with regards to my faith. When I learned some of the information behind it (for instance, that Morgainne was based on Diana Paxson and Gwenhwyfar Lisa Waters and Lancelet on...Diana's husband at the time who is also an author I can't remember) it took some of the magic away for me, but made MB more "real."

Anyway, so far the discussion regarding the MZB scandal has been unusually calm and staid, esp. for fandom/scholarship. Her estate still has yet to say anything on the matter, and I'd just about bet they won't. (Apparently Deborah J. Ross tweeted the other day that people should pay no attention to "sensationalizing rumors," got blasted, then apologized.)
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 1st, 2014 07:52 pm (UTC)
Edgehill has a story each in the new Darkover anthologies published by the Trust--one came out last year and one this year. I have to get ahold of them.

I got the feeling through some conversation at Darkovercon--though I don't know how accurate it is--that the surviving children don't get much from the estate and are rather divorced from it. I think some of this stems from Breen and abuse etc. and some of it from their inability/unwillingness to treat Marion as the perfect being, as the Estate would have it.
Jul. 2nd, 2014 09:30 pm (UTC)
Huh. I remember reading most of MZB's Darkover novels when I first discovered them (which is so long ago, now, I can't remember when that was.) I do know that the last few that came out just lost me completely, though.

Anyway, I know that you don't have to separate an artist from their art, but I think that if you choose to, that's just fine. I won't buy a damn thing by Orson Scott Card no matter how much it may be recommended to me because I won't fund his hateful organizations. It's no different to me than boycotting Hobby Lobby and Jelly Belly (no matter how much I love their product, woe) because they won't provided insurance that covers contraceptives for their female employees (and the fucking Supreme Court agreed, ptui.) But there are several other problematical people out there that I will buy/watch/recommend. Am a hypocrite? Maybe. But then, I'm not perfect, either, and I like what I like.
( 9 comments — Add your .02 )

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